What is gender?
As your child gets older, they'll question things about themselves. They'll make discoveries about who they are, and their gender is no exception. It's essential to understand the many facets of gender to support them during their journey fully.
Gender comes in many forms, and there are two sides of the coin to consider when your child explores their gender.
Gender identity. Gender identity describes your sense of self. Many people identify according to their assigned sex at birth (referred to as cisgender). For example, you may identify as a female if you were born a female.
Male and female expectations will vary depending on the culture. For example, if you were born male but identify with female expectations (such as gender roles or style) in your culture, you may identify as female. This type of person is called transgender, or trans for short.
The male and female binary is the groundwork for understanding gender, but not the only two genders. The terms nonbinary or genderqueer encompass all the genders that don't fall into the gender binary. Exploring the variety of gender identities that fall under nonbinary is a vital part of discovering your child's gender identity.
Gender expression. The other side of the coin is the outward expression of gender. If identity is internal, expression is external.
How you express your gender is mainly dependent on your gender identity and the typical traits of your culture. People express their gender differently, so assuming their gender identity based on their expression may not be straightforward.
Gender is individual. Regardless of how a person identifies or expresses themselves, listen to what they tell you. Then, use the pronouns, labels, and identifiers they wish to use publicly.
Gender is not sex. Sex describes your genitalia. At birth, the doctor assigned your sex as either male or female. Sex influences gender identity early on, but the two become more unrelated as you get older and explore your identity.
Gender is not sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is how you describe the people you're attracted to and love. Gender identity influences the language you use to describe your sexual orientation, but the two are otherwise unrelated.
What causes someone to identify as another gender?
There's no one reason someone is transgender. Please talk with your child about how they feel, their views on gender, and society's expressions of gender to understand their reasoning.
Your child may not know the exact reason they identify as a particular gender. But like any other part of their identity, it's who they are.
Some factors can contribute to exploring gender, but they aren't the cause. However, they may open the door for your child to explore gender.
These factors include:
- Hormone levels
- Life experiences, particularly in childhood and adolescence
Supporting your transgender child
Discussing gender with your child is challenging. However, it's important to talk openly about gender to ensure your child doesn't go through the journey alone.
Exploring gender is stressful for your child. They'll worry about not fitting into gender roles and experience distress from kids their age. Consider taking the following steps to help them take this journey safely.
Get outside help. Even if you feel comfortable helping your child, getting support from a third party can be helpful. Look for help in the following areas:
- Talk to your child's school or other organizations. They can serve your child's needs and make sure they're safe.
- Work with a mental health professional who has experience with gender matters.
- Seek guidance from parents of transgender children. Peer support goes a long way.
Be patient. The language surrounding gender is still developing. It'll take time for your child to figure out what language works for them. Even once they figure it out, their perception and definition of their gender will continue to change over time (also called gender fluidity).
Be mindful of gender norms. Many personal products are gendered. For example, your clothes, decorations, and media are all designed with your gender in mind. Kid toys and clothes are particularly gendered.
As your child explores their gender, be mindful of the products and media they consume. Then, allow them to explore those products to develop their sense of gender expression.
Be aware of discrimination. People who don't fit the mold experience biases. It's essential to be mindful of what biases your child may encounter as a transgender person. While this may reveal personal biases, you'll grow by becoming aware.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Psychological Association: "What does transgender mean?"
Gender Spectrum: "Understanding Gender."
npr: "A Guide To Gender Identity Terms."
University of South Dakota: "A Closer look at Gender Identity."
Top My Child to Identify With a Different Gender Related Articles
At What Age Does Gender Identity Develop?Research shows that children recognize their own gender and gender in others starting as early as two or three years old.
Children's HealthChildren's health is focused on the well-being of children from conception through adolescence. There are many aspects of children's health, including growth and development, illnesses, injuries, behavior, mental illness, family health, and community health.
Depression in ChildrenChildhood depression can interfere with social activities, interests, schoolwork and family life. Symptoms and signs include anger, social withdrawal, vocal outbursts, fatigue, physical complaints, and thoughts of suicide. Treatment may involve psychotherapy and medication.
How Do I Talk to My Child About Gender Identity?Children may experience a gender crisis and ask questions about their gender identity. The best way to talk to your child about gender identity is to encourage them to have confidence in who they feel and believe they are.
Mental Illness in ChildrenAbout 5 million children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer from a serious mental illness such as eating disorders, anxiety disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, pervasive development disorders, elimination disorders, learning disorders, schizophrenia, tic disorders, and mood disorders. Symptoms of mental illness include frequent outbursts of anger, hyperactivity, fear of gaining weight, excessive worrying, frequent temper tantrums, and hearing voices that aren't there. Treatment may involve medication, psychotherapy, and creative therapies.
New Parents MistakesParenting a child isn't easy. Explore the top 10 mistakes that new parents make. Discover newborn parenting tips for breastfeeding, learn to deal with crying babies, child's fevers, and more.
Food-Smart Kids SlidesHealthy kids' snacks and meals help your child develop a positive relationship with nutritious food. Teach your kids how to eat right for better nutrition.
What Are 4 Types of Child Personalities?Everyone is born with a distinct personality type and unique characteristics. The four personality types according to Hippocrates are choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic.
What Are the 5 Stages of Child Development?Children undergo various changes in terms of physical, speech, intellectual and cognitive development gradually until adolescence. The five stages of child development include the newborn, infant, toddler, preschool and school-age stages.